Editor’s Note: Shaunta is back! And this time she explains why the expectation of being a “good fatty” is hurtful and unproductive. Right on!
When I first started writing about Health at Every Size (HAES), I spent a lot of time talking about my blood. Nearly every post I wrote included a paragraph listing my “numbers,” like credentials on a resume.
My cholesterol is 125. My blood sugar has never been above 85 on any test, including during pregnancy. I have normal blood pressure. I tend to be a little anemic, but no one is perfect. I also made a point of making sure everyone knew that I regularly engaged in the Center for Disease Control’s recommended 150 minutes of exercise a week and that I ate 1800 calories a day.
I figured that 1800 was high enough to not be a diet, but low enough to not be gluttony. It took a long time, years, for me to understand that trying to eat so far below the number of calories my body needed to maintain my weight was a major cause of my weekly binges.
I was a Good Fatty. I felt like if I was going to write about health and fitness, it was necessary for me to draw a line in the metaphorical sand between fat people like me and fat people not like me. I thought that for people to listen to me, I had to be one of the good ones.
Michelle Allison, dietetics student and blogger at The Fat Nutritionist, expands on that by saying that “a good fatty is someone who stays in line. Someone who stays home with the curtains drawn, exercising in the dark, under a blanket, until they lose enough weight to be considered worthy of existing in society.”
What I know now is that no amount of waving my health markers around will ever convince those who believe I can’t be healthy until I’m thin that health is a highway, not a destination. No number of laps I can swim, no amount of vegetables I can eat, no doctor’s report will convince those who truly believe that “fat” and “healthly” can’t coincide and that fat people can become healthier outside of weight loss.
Interestingly, the opposite of a Good Fatty isn’t a Bad Fatty. Allison believes that the opposite of a Good Fatty is a fat person who does not need to justify or apologize for their existence or for the existence of fat people in the world. If we eat donuts, we’re still valuable. If we don’t exercise, we’re still valuable. Even if we’re not healthy, we’re still valuable.
The opposite of a Good Fatty is a fat rebel who believes in autonomy and that a person’s health is a personal concern and not up for public debate.
For the last couple of weeks, the hash tag #notyourgoodfatty has been trending on Twitter. It started with Amanda Levitt, who blogs at Fat Body Politics, answering a question about fat stigma and grew from there. As a participant in that conversation, I noticed a few things that I think are worth sharing here.
The opponents to Fat Acceptance (FA) and Health at Every Size are largely unaware of what either of these movements actually are. Fat Acceptance and Health at Every Size are not interchangeable terms. FA is a social justice movement that fights against size discrimination. HAES is a health paradigm designed to help people adopt healthy behaviors in a weight neutral way. Neither are trying to take away anyone’s weight loss program. Neither have a nefarious goal of turning the entire world into obese people with diabetes and heart disease. Neither are interested in shaming anyone of any size, because both believe that bodies of all sizes are worthy of acceptance.
There is a lot of fear involved in hating on fat people who are trying to build a positive community. As Dr. Linda Bacon, author of Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight, said during a keynote speech at a recent eating disorders conference, “For those who can only envision weight loss as a solution to their woes, size acceptance is a very threatening message.”
Giving up dieting is scary. I get that it can feel like someone asking you to give up breathing. For many of us, the struggle to control our weight stretches into childhood. I started dieting in the third grade.
I empathize with and understand the fear, even if I dislike the anger it creates. I can see how not trying to lose weight can feel like trying not to lose weight. It’s an important distinction, but it can be confusing.
It is an act of rebellion for a fat person, especially a very fat woman, to say that giving up trying to lose weight is okay. And the result, on #notyourgoodfatty, on Reddit where my blog posts often end up as examples of “fat logic,” and in the real world, is fear that is often expressed as anger.
I am an HAES advocate who spends a lot of time thinking and talking about how the Anti-dieting paradigm and weight loss interconnect. I write often about how giving up trying to control my size has allowed my body to do one of the things it was designed to do: regulate my weight. For some reason this seems to upset critics far more than it ever did when I talked about HAES without talking about weight.
In fact, the idea that I’ve lost weight seems to upset them even more than my declaration that it’s okay to stop dieting. One of the very concerned critics at #notyourgoodfatty made a good effort to convince the rest of the advocates participating that I am a “secret dieter.” He believes that I’m actually on a diet, but I don’t want to lose their respect, so I lie about how much I eat.
Allison believes that “People (who disagree with us) are angry at us because, when we challenge stigma, we challenge their social privilege and the hierarchy that grants them that privilege. If a fat person who doesn’t like vegetables and isn’t particularly fussed about exercise is just as worthy and valuable a human being as a person who eats a million vegetables and runs marathons, then the latter person no longer receives social privileges—social capital—from those behaviors.”
I gave up being a Good Fatty a long time ago. I don’t wear my health markers on my sleeve anymore. I don’t hide away from the world while I frantically try to figure out the math and science of being thin enough to be acceptable. I will never hate myself for being fat again.
Shaunta Grimes is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nation. She lives in Reno, Nevada with her family and a pretty yellow dog named Maybelline Scout. Visit her blog or check her out at Fierce Freethinking Fatties. Every Tuesday she sends out a Health at Every Size newsletter called The 100 Day Experiment. If you’re interested in receiving it, please click here and enter your email address. Subscribers get a free copy of Shaunta’s Anti-Dieting primer.